Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Role of a Product Owner in Transitioning Organizations

So you are a product owner in an organization that wants to be agile but doesn't have the organizational infrastructure to enable and empower you.   The primary role of a product owner is to ensure product is delivered with the highest business value first within the shortest release horizon with the highest quality code.  To do this, the product owner must have the ability to negotiate with customers and stakeholders while continuously prioritizing the work consumed by product delivery teams.  If you have practiced 'real' agile, you understand that the role of the product owner is the most challenging to adopt in an organization undergoing an agile transformation.

The roadmap to a mature product owner role can be correlated with the agile adoption transitional stages learning, improving, sharing and innovating.

Learning Stage
In this stage, teams are barely forming, receiving training and coaching.  If teams can't demonstrate that they can execute agile practices, the transformation will fail.  The role of the product owner will not scale past the project level and this person maybe formerly have been a project manager, product manager or business analyst.   Simply prioritize the team's work and limit work in progress. Stop starting and start finishing tasks.

In this stage, teams are practicing all the fundamental agile ceremonies.  The role of the product owner might reach the program level and you can influence all functional areas by keeping everyone aware of the product vision and the roadmap to get there.  You still may not get to influence the priority of work intake but you can make business value goals visible to all. Talk about it hang up posters about it, your job is to simply make aware and elaborate.

In this stage, many agile teams are stoodup and the pilot teams are sharing templates, meeting logistics, process documentation, tool configurations and other lessons learned.  Typically this means leadership members are convinced for at least one business unit and are more willing to provide for environments and cultures that agile practices thrive in.  The role of the product owner may even be at a director, VP or even C Level depending on the size of your organization.  This product owner may be able to control the portfolio of work and investment models. 

In this stage, agile roles are scaled from the team to leadership levels, thus providing alignment from top to bottom by default.  The role of the product owner is setup to reach maximum potential by delivering products that can change the world, wipe out the competition and attract the best talent.

So you see, the role of the product owner has a place in every organization we just need to be patient with immature organizations and coach anyone that presents teaching moments.  


  1. The product owner is someone who has an in-depth knowledge about business needs for the product being delivered. The product owner has to be an individual as the decision making power cannot be given to a team. If there is a team of stakeholders that helps the product owner, the final decision making power should lie with the product owner .

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    2. I disagree Casey. I think you should read more of this and/or that of Scrum Inc.

  2. @Casey, thank you for sharing another definition for the role of a product owner. I believe your definition can be best realized in the most mature transitioning organizations. When I wrote this post, I was thinking more about the organizations that are in the beginning stages of agile adoption. Especially larger organizations that require 2-4 yrs of team level adoption before any foundational change happens vertically.

  3. @Casey: Theory is great as you need it, but a person needs to know how to deploy the theory in a practical environment. I read a lot of postings that people leave behind and they always think they know more. LOL!